Quick hits and notes from NC State's 87-70 win over Holy Cross in front of 10,205 fans at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Wednesday night.
Play of the game
NC State seized control of the contest early into the second half. The Pack led 33-31 at halftime, and a free throw from Crusader sophomore wing Mike Cavataio, a St. John's transfer, cut the lead to one with 19:39 left in the game. At that point, State went on a 16-2 spurt, with the last basket of the run being a particularly sweet play.
Following a blocked shot by senior forward Dennis Horner on the defensive side of the court, fifth-year senior guard Farnold Degand pushed the ball quickly up court and passed to freshman center Jordan Vandenberg, who was trailing the play in the center of the court. Vandenberg then made a nice, quick dump down pass to freshman forward Josh Davis who was flying in from the left wing, and Davis threw down a two-handed dunk for a 49-34 lead with 15:33 left in the game.
Player of the game
There were actually quite a few candidates. Junior forward Tracy Smith had a workmanlike 19 points, making 9 of 10 free throws, and matched a career-high with three blocked shots. Horner added 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half, and he too matched his career high with four blocks. Sophomore guard Julius Mays shook off a recent slump where he had scored just four total points in his last four games to score 15 off the bench in 28 minutes, knocking down 3 of 6 three-pointers.
But our choice for player of the game was Degand, who continues his recent strong play. He reached double figures in scoring for the first time this year and just the eighth time in his career with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, and had a game-high nine assists, which is also a career-high, and just two turnovers in 29 minutes. As a reward for his play, Degand actually earned the nod over sophomore wing C.J. Williams for the start of the second half.
Before the game, each Wolfpack player decided to take a shot from where Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons nailed a 70-footer to stun the Pack at the buzzer in overtime last Sunday. Only Williams and freshman wing Scott Wood connected.
Whether State was not over the game or the somewhat lackluster atmosphere at a half-full RBC Center as students are not back from the winter break is unknown, but State got off to a slow start Wednesday night. The Pack did not reach double figures in points until Degand made a three with 9:28 to go in the half. Holy Cross jumped out to a 10-4 and led 14-11 with 8:47 left in the first half before State would score nine straight points for the only lead change of the game.
Free throw shooting
The first thing Wolfpack head coach Sidney Lowe mentioned following the game was NC State's 11-of-12 shooting from the free throw line, although almost all of that is credited to Smith. Mays was the only other Wolfpacker to attempt a free throw and he made both his shots. Nevertheless, the 91.7 percent percentage easily shattered State's previous best of 77.3 percent against UNC Greensboro Dec. 31. NC State made 17 of 22 in that game.
NC State also had some other bests in the game. Their eight turnovers were the fewest in a game for the Wolfpack this year. The 10 made three-pointers matched their season set against UNC Greensboro and Winthrop. The 87 points were two off a season high set against UNCG, and their 11 steals and 11 blocked shots were also the second best efforts of the year for State.
Holy Cross shoutout
The Crusaders are just 3-12 on the year, but do not be surprise if they are one of the better teams in the Patriot League. Sophomore guard Devin Brown comes off the bench despite being Holy Cross' second-leading scorer, and he played well Wednesday night with 21 points in 24 minutes.
Holy Cross shot an impressive 10 of 17 from long range, or 58.8 percent. That is the first time this year that a Wolfpack opponent made over half their three-point attempts.
Crusader head coach Sean Kearney also took great pride in outrebounding NC State 37-34, including 16-10 on the offensive glass. Holy Cross had a 17-10 edge in second chance points.
Reason to come Saturday
NC State now gets into the heart of its ACC schedule. Fifteen of the final 16 games will be conference action, starting Saturday when the Pack hosts Virginia. The lone non-conference game left will be when the Pack hosts North Carolina Central Jan. 30.
Fans who come to Saturday's game will get to see the Pack honor one of the top players from the 1983 national championship team - Thurl Bailey.
After the game, Horner admitted that the knee he hurt late in the Florida contest is still bothering him. He was not full go in practice Tuesday, and there was some consideration to not playing Horner Wednesday night. He finished the game though shooting 8 of 12 from the field, 2 of 4 from long range, for 18 points.
Other stats of note
• NC State had 20 assists on 33 made baskets. Holy Cross had 15 assists on 21 field goals.
• NC State forced 17 Holy Cross turnovers, and the Pack had a 20-19 edge in points off turnovers.
• Holy Cross had just two blocks and three steals, and NC State was much more effective in transition with a 20-8 advantage in fast break points.
• The Pack dominated in the paint 42-18.
• NC State's reserves outscored the Crusaders' bench 35-29.